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Author: mhaff

Four Ways to be a Better Communicator in 2017

Successful leaders know that effective communications are a competitive advantage.  As you begin 2017, make a resolution to evaluate the health of your employee communications. Are business goals and actions aligned? Do employees understand priorities and do they have a way to participate and share ideas?

Everyone talks about the importance of communications, but it’s just lip service without an actionable plan.   Here are four ways to commit to better communications in 2017.

1) Map out your communications calendar right now—Begin with a “Welcome to 2017” message. Schedule dates for the entire year now to ensure it remains a priority. Keep the content fresh with a mix of performance results, customer and employee stories, and encouragement.  We all need more of that.

2) Articulate the vision— If a customer asks an employee what your business was about, what would they say? Everyone on your team should use the same headline.  When people can connect their work to big goals, they are more engaged.  Leaders who communicate the vision and values, then put those values into action, see performance climb.

3) Use stories to make an impact—Think back to the most recent story that struck a chord with you.  Was it complicated or overstuffed with facts?  Simple stories make an emotional connection with the audience and hold their attention.  Use your own experiences to make a point.  I recently heard the president of a large hospitality group say that he makes time for fitness daily because “We only get one set of parts and I want mine to last.”  That’s memorable and tells me something interesting about him. Leaders who share a little of themselves in communications are viewed as credible and human.

4) Get visual—Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.  If you rely on email as your primary form of communication, know that there is a better way. In 2016, there were 4.6 billion cell phone users in the world and most phones have video or photo capability. Your team members are viewing or creating visual media every day. Use photos and video as frequently as you use memos. Video is an excellent way to improve message retention, connect with remote workers, and engage senior leadership with teams.  The best part is you don’t have to have a large budget or be an on-camera pro.  If you’re sincere, it will be memorable.

That will get you started.  Need some help in communications planning for 2017?  Get in touch.

Five Ways to Build Engagement through Year-End Communications

 

shutterstock_red-envelope

This time of year, a kind of holiday haze sets in. The breakroom counters are bursting with tins of holiday cookies and flavored popcorn.  Employees are focusing on completing 2016 assignments (and scheduling holiday getaways).

December marks the fiscal year-end for many businesses.  Help your employees successfully navigate through the many December deadlines with proactive communications that show you care about more than the bottom line.  Here are five tried-and-true ways to do it.

1.       Clarify year-end deadlines.  Start your team meetings with a reminder or checklist of deadlines for invoice processing, Flexible Spending Accounts, finalize expense reports, and other year-end deliverables. This messaging should begin December 1 and continue through the month.

2.       Communicate vacation benefits. Paid time off is treasured by employees. If your business has a “use it or lose it” vacation policy, remind team members so they can schedule time off before year-end.  If your company allows vacation accrual, communicate the accrual limit. Ensure there are no surprises in January.

3.       Come together through service. Studies show that volunteerism increases pride, commitment and employee engagement.  Contact a local charity, food bank or civic association for ideas on how your team can get involved during the holidays.

4.       Celebrate 2016 achievements. Create a top ten list of your team’s “Greatest Hits of 2016” or ask team members to talk about one thing that helped them be successful this year. Connect the dots to show how every role contributes to delivering performance and your company’s vision.

5.       Say thank you.  To make a connection that lasts, send a personal note of thanks. Low cost, big impact. Be sincere and make it personal by including a strength or a behavior the individual brings to the team.

Ten Inspiring Movie Quotes about Communications

wizard-of-oz-photoBefore you craft your next message, take a look at these and enjoy.

  1. “When you are telling stories, have a point. It makes it much more interesting for the listener.” Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987
  2. “Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Oceans Eleven, 2001
  3. “Learning to listen, that takes a lot of discipline.” Forever Strong, 2008
  4. “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” Wizard of Oz, 1939
  5. “Avoid using the word very because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted.  He’s not very sad, he’s morose. Language was invented for one reason, to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will never do.” Dead Poet’s Society, 1997
  6. “The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink.” The Social Network, 2010
  7. “Whoever tells the best story, wins.” Amistad, 1997
  8. “You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head.  The first key to writing is to write, not to think.”  Finding Forester, 2000
  9. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
  10. Everybody has to sell a little. You’re selling them this idea of you, you know, you’re sort of saying trust me, I’m, um, credible.” Broadcast News, 1987

Everyone likes a good story. Here’s how to build one.

July Insight Blog image 20160722

“They just don’t get it.”

That’s the refrain of business leaders when employee performance doesn’t match expectations, or when a new initiative is greeted with a collective yawn.  Employees must be too busy, disengaged or distracted to understand why this is important, right?

It’s a common predicament. Perhaps it’s not the audience, but the message.

There’s a far better way to engage internal audiences, and it doesn’t include handing out T-shirts and coffee mugs. Use storytelling to make an emotional connection.

We’ve been taught that “correct” business communications isvery detailed, data driven and cost/benefit oriented. It’s a proven formula. However, when the goal is to inspire action, introduce change, or persuade, storytelling is more effective. It helps ideas stick.

You know this is true. It’s how myths and legends are born.  It’s why we share the same stories around the table at Thanksgiving or at reunions with old friends. It’s why the business origin stories for Coca Cola or Spanx are fascinating.

Engaging employees through storytelling binds them together in a shared experience. It’s a method anyone can use. Here are four tips to help you get started:

Start with the end in mind.  What do you want your team to believe and do after they hear the story? Identify the objective and build the story around it.

Set the scene. A strong introduction is the key to a solid story. Engage the audience with a personal experience, a struggle or make an employee the hero.

Simplify.  Twitter has taught us that we can make a point in 140 characters. A strong story, just like a good joke, adds just enough details to advance the story.  Too much detail and you’ve lost them.

Be authentic. Use conversational language.  Share something about you. The power to persuade is lost if the story sounds like it’s lifted from a user’s manual.

Need some help telling your story?  Get in touch.

Three Ways to Nurture Employee Involvement

 

One day last week I parked in front of a white, mid-sized car.  Not brand new, not a luxury brand, just a car you might not notice.  Except I did.  Because it had long, black eyelashes on the headlights.

As it turns out, you can buy car eyelashes for less than $30.  It’s an inexpensive way to share a little flair.  If you’re looking, you’ll notice the countless ways drivers personalize their rides, from snazzy rims to monogramed window stickers.

car with eyelashes June 16

The takeaway here is not the growth in auto accessory sales, but the ever-increasing desire for self-expression.  Your business can harness that powerful trend by creating communications channels that encourage collaboration and involvement.

To be relevant, internal communications has to invite and ignite employees to share their opinions and personality. Once internal communications was top-down: we’ll tell you what you need to know. As internal communications evolved, communication improved with employee surveys, town halls and feedback sessions.  Think about this: How often does anyone actually ask a question at a town hall session?

Involvement communications is a fancy term for connecting with individuals, not groups. It’s about creating ways for your colleagues to participate. Here are three excellent ways to start:

·         Social media—Invite employees to share what they love about your company as brand ambassadors.  Create a hashtag and use it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  Share the guidelines on how to use it and promote it internally.  Then watch how they share what they love about your business. You’ll be amazed how quickly it’s adopted.  Want some good examples?  Go to #AdobeLife, #LifeatIHG  or #ToBeAPartner.

·         Online forums–Create an online forum on your company’s intranet and solicit ideas for building engagement and productivity or saving money. Enterprise networks like Yammer, tibbr, or Chatter create a channel to collaborate, share insights and new ideas.

·         Involvement events—Create events that let them share their passions.  Chili cook-offs, photo contests, or service days are simple, inexpensive ways to bring teams together to build community.  Ask for selfies and share the day through communication channels.

Want more ideas on how to bring your internal communications to life? Let’s connect: answers@insight-communication.com

Your 2016 Summer Reading List: Five Books for Business Leaders

May 2016 blog photo - beach

I recently attended an event recognizing the University of Georgia’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2015.  The guest speaker was Tonya Harris Cornileus, Vice President for Learning and Organizational Development at ESPN.  She made a strong impression.  Her speech centered on a book that influenced her life and her leadership, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

I’ve listened to countless luncheon speakers over the years tell stories, share insights on their personal journeys, and provide checklists for higher performance.  Using a novel as the centerpiece of the speech was an unexpected, but effective choice.  It reminded me how long it’s been since I read anything to strengthen and refocus my leadership skills.

With beach season on the horizon, consider bringing along one book that will inspire you to grow or further your communication style.  Here are five of my favorites (because none of them are long or complex):

·         Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard—Chip and Dan Heath. Change is challenging, and it’s non-stop. Chip and Dan Heath talk about how difficult change is in our companies, our careers, and our lives, and how to overcome our resistance and make change happen.

·         A Short Guide to a Happy Life—Anna Quindlen.  A very quick read (think 20 minutes) about appreciating the small things that sometimes go unnoticed in our over-scheduled, bustling lives.

·         Delivering Happiness—Tony Hsieh. The Zappos story, told from the beginning, is a compelling business read because of the brand’s amazing success.  But the real takeaway is that if you get the company culture right, success follows.

·         The Storytellers Secret–Carmine Gallo.  Gallo is one of my personal favorites because he writes about communications. This book showcases stories and techniques from some of today’s most successful brand leaders. A fantastic resource for anyone who makes presentations or speeches.

·         The Five Dysfunctions of a Team—Patrick Lencioni.  This book is in a fable format. It’s easy to pick out your team’s dysfunctions and use practical steps to achieving team health. Teamwork is the ultimate competitive advantage.

 

Think training is expensive? A lesson from the Erin Andrews civil suit

Portrait of a business owner smiling with her workers in the background

Erin Andrews’ civil suit against the owner and former operator of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt, and the resulting award of $55 million, should set off alarm bells for every business. In raw, gut wrenching testimony, Andrews recounted the emotional impact of being videotaped in her hotel room by a stalker.  While the verdict assigned 51% of the penalty on her stalker, the hotel was found to be at fault and liable for 49% of the amount.

The verdict may be reduced or overturned on appeal, but the reputation damage is done.  Guests don’t make the distinction between a company-owned or franchised business.  They know the brand.  In this case, they know that Andrews’ privacy, safety and security was violated at a Marriott hotel.

The individual who videotaped Andrews has already been convicted.  The heart of this case was Andrews’ contention that hotel personnel gave out her room number to the stalker and did not tell her that he had asked to be put in a room next to hers.

That sounds like a training issue.

Well trained hotel personnel know to never say a guest’s room number out loud.  They do not honor requests for rooms adjacent to members outside their travel party. Was the hotel employee who provided information to the stalker trained?  We’ll never know.  But the monetary penalty for the error is evident and the impact to the brand’s reputation is evolving.

Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense.  When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence.  They treat customers well and create an experience that builds brand love. Productivity and efficiency improve and turnover declines.  Sure, training requires time away from operations, but that’s time well spent when employees understand their role.  Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.

Companies that support employee training and development make an investment in business success.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook

messy manual

What is the last line in every Employee Handbook?

“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”

Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?

Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed.  They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.

I recently read an article about one such extreme situation.  The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December.  The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information.  The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.

Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it.  Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”

Do you need support updating your Employee Handbook or would you like to give the design a refresh? We can help you with that.  Visit our website www.insight-communication.com or email me at   ben.clayton@insight-communication.com.

A User Guide for 2016

snowy road

I have a tattered clipping in my wallet that I fish out each January to read instead of writing New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know where it came from or how long I’ve had it (by the looks of it, more than 20 years). It reminds me of my goals as a leader, a parent, a friend, a business partner. I hope it will inspire you as well.

 
A new year is a new beginning, an open road. Make the most of it.

On this day:

 
• Mend a quarrel
• Search out a forgotten friend
• Dismiss a suspicion and replace it with trust
• Write a note to someone you miss
• Encourage a youth who has lost his way
• Keep a promise
• Forget an old grudge
• Examine your demands on others and vow to reduce them
• Fight for a principle
• Express your gratitude
• Overcome a fear
• Consider others’ perspectives when making a decision
• Take two minutes to appreciate the beauty of nature
• Tell someone you love them

 
(Author Unknown)

Three Tips to Take the Sting Out of Benefits Communications

Three Tips to Take the Sting Out of Benefits Communications

It’s Open Enrollment season and that sound you’re hearing is not a cheery holiday carol, but the collective shriek of millions who are reviewing their medical benefit costs for 2016.

According to the Healthcare Cost Institute, a non-partisan non-profit entity, health care spending among those with employer-sponsored insurance increased 10 % from 2011-2014. The Milliman Medical Index (MMI) calculates the annual cost of healthcare for a typical family of four with employer-provided PPO insurance coverage. According to Milliman, this year’s Index is $24,671, an increase of 6.3% over 2014. Employers still pay the majority, but as cost sharing for medical benefits continues to climb, employees may be paying over 40% of the tab.

For internal communicators, there is no way to spin this. Businesses must manage their benefits costs, and since medical service is becoming more expensive, cost sharing is the prevailing technique to manage the company budget. But there is a way to make it less painful for employees and the business. There are 11 months leading up to Open Enrollment. Each month is an opportunity to inform and educate about the value of your company’s benefit plan. The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it.

Start with a survey—Let’s get really basic: Do your employees know what benefits you offer? Design a simple survey (easy to develop on Google or through providers like Survey Monkey). Determine the awareness of all your benefits. Include Employee Assistance Programs, discounted purchase programs and retirement plans. Anything and everything. You’ll have a good foundation for the second step of this plan: education.

Develop a 12-month communication plan—Many companies cover all their benefits communications once a year to meet compliance requirements. Think about this from the employee’s perspective. No information for 11 months, then lots of information when decisions must be made immediately. It can be overwhelming. Use multiple channels to promote your benefits programs: news items, Lunch and Learns, posters. Consider highlighting one personal employee story every month. A consistent flow of communications about your benefits will increase understanding and engagement.

Be transparent—No one likes higher fees. However, if employees understand what’s driving cost increases, when the prices go up they’ll be more prepared. The time to share this information is mid-year, so the foundation is prepared for Open Enrollment. Telling that story during Open Enrollment is ineffective because your employees will be focused on their out of pocket costs. Get out in front of the issue.

Want more benefits communications ideas? Let connect.